To determine the conditions in which I have failed myself, is in some ways more difficult than the task I have addressed in How I Have Failed Others. It sounds nice and philosophical to say the tasks are simply the same, but I don’t believe they are, primarily because the commitments I make to myself rely on me to an extent which other commitments do not.
As with others, I fail myself, principally, in failing to keep to the plans which I make for myself. I do this largely because I get over-committed, things come up, and I make honest-though-mistaken use of my time. These are standard and apply to commitments to others as well. I also fail myself in the other two ways which I mention in the previous post. I fail myself in the games I play with myself and I fail myself by flights of fancy, temporarily abandoning all structure. These two, however, are distinctly different when the commitments are only to myself.
Generally my problem is not that of playing tit-for-tat with myself, and therewith breaking commitments as retribution. My problem is, instead, that of *not* playing tit-for-tat with myself. When I do let my former self down, there are rarely any immediate consequences – any consequences within my window of association – which train me to fulfill my commitments to myself. There need to be legitimate punishments.
In fact, the moments of “flight” I have spoken of are quite the opposite. In those moments I am taken by an idea in need of investigation or something in need of writing, I break commitments to seek a sort of near term fulfillment, which rewards me for breaking my commitments to myself. I do not simply stay at home to drink beer. Rather I do something far more satisfying, which I can also justify as of much deeper and greater significance than mundane commitments – and a deeper and greater significance to me. Because they are of deeper and greater significance to me and I am breaking commitments to me, I do not have that guilt of being mistaken or selfish. But if those moments come at the wrong time – and I cannot well time them – they promise me far greater trouble than success.
What it seems I need is likely what many people need, but is hard to achieve: good planning/resource allocation and an appropriate system of rewards and punishments for breaking commitments. In this, a valid system of rewards and punishments is crucial. But for me it is always undermined by chasing nobility, those matters of greater and deeper significance.
The torture of mistrusting yourself – using Nietzsche’s phrase – would seem punishment enough, but chasing nobility provides a near-term fulfillment, which rewards commitment breaking, and mistrust alone is not enough to offset it. And still, I struggle at this very moment to say I should not chase those moments. When I look at those things I have accomplished by chasing ideas whole heartedly in 10 day intervals – I have to say they are some of the things I am most proud of.
It is a kind of torture indeed.